October was a rough month for Chung Ng Wai (who goes by the alias “Blitzchung”), a Hong Kong professional player who signed off an interview by putting on a gas mask and uttering a free Hong Kong message.
Blitzchung, who had competed in the Grandmasters Asia-Pacific tournament and plays Hearthstone, a popular card game by US company Blizzard Entertainment found himself facing Blizzard’s wrath.
You see, his actions apparently violated a section of its competition rules, which states that those who take part in a Blizzard esports competition like Grandmasters cannot do anything that “brings you into public disrepute, offends a portion or group of the public, or otherwise damages Blizzard image”.
Therefore, he was suspended by Blizzard for one year from Hearthstone esports and had his prize money taken way, much to Blitzchung’s chagrin. To add to the controversy, two casters taking part in the video stream were banned too.
Of course, it’s logical to assume that Blitzchung protest could rub Chinese authorities the wrong way, and that Blizzard wouldn’t want to jeopardize its access to the very lucrative Chinese gaming market, but this did not stop many gamers from complaining on social media and at this year’s BlizzCon event, an annual show where Blizzard shows off its upcoming games and other stuff.
This led to Blizzard reducing Blitzchung’s penalties: his suspension would now be limited to six months, and he would now get his prize money (great). Also, the two casters who were involved in the post-match interview with Blitzchung, and who unwittingly got caught in the controversy, had their bans reduced to six months too.
Some were hoping though, that Blizzard would be magnanimous and let Blitzchung off the hook completely, something which the US video game company has so far refused to do.
And now Blizzard’s boss J. Allen Brack has explained the reasons behind maintaining the Hearthtone protester’s suspension in a recent interview with PC Gamer (via Eurogamer) saying these amount to the company not wanting players to pursue their own agendas during video broadcasts.
“Again, it’s not about the content of Blitzchung’s message. It’s about the fact that it was not around the games. If we hadn’t taken action, if we hadn’t done something, you can imagine the trail that would be in our future around doing interviews. They would become times for people to make a statement about whatever they wanted to, on whatever issue. That’s just a path that we don’t want to go down”, said Blizzard’s boss in the interview.
Blizzard’s boss also commented on an apology issued shortly after the event (which appeared on Blizzard’s official Weibo account) was actually made by NetEase, the company which publishes Blizzard’s games in China.
“We are not legally allowed to operate those channels. We are not legally allowed to contribute. That is a NetEase decision, they are the publisher in China”, said Brack.
But despite Blizzard softening its stance regarding Blitzchung’s actions, it’s likely quite a few fans of the US company are still feeling gutted about the matter – this clearly feels like Blizzard is putting its business interests above other matters like free speech.
The controversy, it seems, is likely to rage on.